What Is Colon Cancer?

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Cancer needs no introduction. You can say that it is one of those deadly diseases that shakes the spirit of the affected person to its very core after the diagnosis. But not everyone gives in and loses all the hope. There are fighters too who’d do absolutely anything to not only ward off the disease but also to make sure it doesn’t take a toll on their self-esteem and self-confidence while they live, even if it is there to take their life.

Colon cancer, also known as Bowel Cancer, Rectal Cancer and Colorectal Cancer, is a disease that damages of one of the most vital organs of digestive system; the large intestine. Marked by the abnormal growth of malignant cells in certain parts of the large intestine, it has the ability to spread its wings to engulf the other organs of the body.

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How this type of cancer is diagnosed, you ask? First, the doctor will take a sample of the colon with the help of colonoscopy. Then, the sample is passed through medical imaging in order to identify the stage and the effect of the cancer on the body. This helps the doctor to determine if the extent to which the disease has spread (and in which parts).

Like any other type of cancer, the earlier it is discover and if in a benign stage, the easier it is to be treated. The longer it takes for the colon cancer to be diagnosed, the more difficult it might get to be cured.

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The Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, then there is a chance that you might have colon cancer.

  1. Chronic constipation
  2. A change in bowel movement that stretches up to a week or more
  3. Decrease in the thickness of the stool
  4. Appearance of blood in stool
  5. Nausea
  6. Vomiting
  7. Loss of appetite
  8. Abdominal cramps
  9. Fatigue
  10. Loss of weight

It is not necessary that you have to have all these symptoms to be diagnosed with colon cancer. Some patients might have only one or two of these signs, while others might show five to six of them. However, in either case, it is important that you schedule a checkup with your doctor and get screening done as soon as possible, so that you can catch it at an early stage and prevent the tumor from growing and spreading.

The screening of colon cancer is important because in many cases, the symptoms are not apparent until the cancer has reached an advanced stage. So if you are aged above 50, then you should schedule a screening for colon cancer if any of the symptoms is prevalent. Also, if you have a genetic record of the disease or with a weak immune system, then you should opt for screening so it could be treated immediately.

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What Causes The Colon Cancer?

The question pops in the mind after reading about the symptoms, “How can I prevent myself from it?” A simple way is to have knowledge about what are the causes and the risk factors that lead to this cancer.

Some of the risk factors may include:

  • Old age (The more the age advances, higher are the risks for the disease)
  • Excessive intake of fat
  • History of colon cancer
  • History of polyps (which might not have been malignant earlier)
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Male gender
  • Diabetes (Type 2)
  • Obesity
  • Regularly smoking
  • Lack of physical exertion
  • Genetic makeup (family history of colon cancer especially among parents or siblings increases the risk in the patient)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease

If you have got a few of them, then it is high time you see a doctor and get yourself screened for colon cancer. Apart from that, get a balanced routine, and refrain from the unhealthy lifestyle as much as you can (if that is what you checked on your list).

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How Does It Begin?

Now here begins the technical part. The colon cancer starts with the growth of the inner lining of the colon and/or the rectum, and this growth is polyps, which refer to the small growth of tissues in an organ of the body. These polyps aren’t all necessarily cancerous, but some of them could turn into cancerous ones over time. It also depends on the type of polyps that are present in the large intestine.

a) Hyperplastic Polyps: These are also known as the inflammatory polyps because of their structure. These polyps are very common but they are not the carriers of the cancer cells.

b) Adenomatous Polyps: If someone is diagnosed with this type of polyps, they must immediately seek specialized medical help. These polyps have the potential to change into cancerous cells and their occurrence is known as pre-cancer condition.

The colon wall (in the large intestine) is made up of multiple tissue layers and the colorectal cancer begins at the innermost layer of the colon and spreads through the other outer layers too.

The cancerous cells can travel to various parts of the body through the blood vessels and lymph vessels that carry away the waste.

The colon cancer is said to be easily curable if it has not spread out of the colon, but once it spreads in the adjacent organs, it gets very difficult to completely cure it. The treatment and the effectiveness of drugs greatly depend on the stage of the cancer.

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Treatment of Colon Cancer

As we have discussed earlier what polyps are, they have the tendency to occur in even tiny blood vessels. In the case of colonoscopy, these polyps could be removed if they are visible in the imaging procedure.

However, if there are clusters of polyps or they are large in size, then your doctor would recommend you to go through a biopsy. This will help them to determine if they are cancerous or not. In the meantime, doctors may prescribe anti inflammatory drugs to decrease the risk of the colon cancer.

In the scenario in which you are diagnosed with colon cancer, then the course of action would most probably a combination of surgery along with radiation and chemotherapy. This decision is highly dependent on a few factors including the stage of the cancer, the organs it has spread to, and for how long it has been prevalent.

Its treatment can prove to be effective if it is confined to the colon only, but if the disease has spread, then there is very little that drug usage or improving the overall quality of life can do to cure it.

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The Stages of Colon Cancer

There are commonly four stages of colon cancer, each one having more symptoms than the previous and the farther it gets, the more difficult it is to cure.

Stage 1

The cancer growth is limited to the layers of the colon and could be treated with surgery. The part of the colon where the tumor is present could be removed if the doctor finds it difficult to treat it otherwise.

Stage 2

The cancer growth advances to the outer layer of the colon and has a tendency to affect the tissues nearby. Radiation therapy and surgery are the treatment options in this stage.

Stage 3

The colon cancer of third stage is spread through lymph nodes and the blood vessels, and the treatment could involve surgery accompanied by chemotherapy. Also, radiation therapy can also be an option. The cancer could come back if it had caused a hole in the colon.

Stage 4

By this stage, the colon cancer is spread to other adjacent organs and has started to spread its way across them. Chemotherapy and surgery can be performed in combination depending on the speed of advancement of the cancer. The surgery will also involve removal of the section of colon and also the lymph nodes affected by the cancer.

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Additional Facts about Colon Cancer

Here we have listed some quick pointers for you to keep in mind so that you can take the necessary precautionary measures and get a checkup right away if any abnormal development is diagnosed in the large intestine.

  1. The colon cancer is the tumor which is malignant and is commonly present in the innermost layer of the colon (large intestine).
  2. The most common treatment for the colon cancer is surgery.
  3. Ulcerative Colitis is also one of the major factors which cause the colon cancer, along with family history of colon cancer and malignant polyps.
  4. In the United States, the colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in males (fourth in females) and subsequently, contributes by many folds to the death rate caused by cancer.
  5. It is important to have regular screening because the colon cancer in a benign stage might not show any symptoms at all.
  6. Surprisingly, it has been found that the colon cancer is that it is more prevalent in men than in women.

It is advisable to get regular checkups if you are diagnosed with abnormal tissue growth in the large intestine because it could be a growing tumor which might go unnoticed in the absence of any apparent symptoms.

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